WASHINGTON -- Media reports say U.S. President Barack Obama will announce in his State of the Union address on February 12 that he will bring 34,000 U.S. troops home from Afghanistan in the next 12 months.
The reports quote an anonymous source familiar with the president's speech.
The move will more than halve the size of the current 66,000-strong U.S. contingent in Afghanistan, and will come ahead of a scheduled final withdrawal of most foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
During his speech to a joint session of Congress, Obama is also expected to tackle domestic issues, including efforts to boost the economy and the need to pass stronger gun-safety laws.
Reports say Obama is due to renew his 2009 pledge to lead the world in reducing stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
Last week, Obama indicated that he would use the speech to urge a “growth agenda” for the American middle class.
“That means that what you’ll hear from me next week, I’m going to be talking about making sure that we’re focused on job creation here in the United States of America," he said. "It means that we’re focused on education and that every young person is equipped with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. It means that we’ve got an energy agenda that can make us less dependent on foreign oil, but also that we’re cultivating the kind of clean-energy strategy that will maintain our leadership well into the future.”
Immigration, National Debt
Sources close to the White House say Obama will also urge Congress to find agreement on how to reform the nation’s immigration system. Obama and a bipartisan group of lawmakers have proposed measures that would give the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States a pathway to citizenship.
Obama is giving the State of the Union as Congress and the White House are locked in difficult negotiations over how to reduce the national debt.
Obama is hoping to capitalize on his post-reelection popularity by pushing through higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans and smaller spending cuts on social programs.
If a new deal can’t be reached, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts will automatically kick in around March 1.
White House aides say Obama also plans to renew his first-term pledge to lead the world in reducing the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.
“As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act," he said in a speech in Prague on April 5, 2009. "We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone. But we can lead it, we can start it. So today I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
"The New York Times” reports that Obama is considering reducing the number of U.S. deployed weapons from 1,700 to just over 1,000.
A 2009 strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia stipulates a limit of about 1,550 each by 2018.
The newspaper says Obama might try to reach a new, informal agreement on deeper cuts with Russian President Vladimir Putin that wouldn’t require ratification by either side.
With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher, AP, AFP, Reuters, and nytimes.com